Sat, Apr 04, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Judge gives rights to US' Afghan detainees

HABEAS CORPUS: A US federal judge ruled that there was essentially no difference between the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and those at Bagram, Afghanistan

AFP , WASHINGTON

A US federal judge on Thursday ruled that some inmates at a US military base in Afghanistan could challenge their detention in US courts, a legal right granted to Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Although the US Supreme Court has ruled that detainees at the US naval base in Cuba have the constitutional right to challenge their detention, the government had argued that inmates held at the US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, did not.

But Judge John Bates ruled the Bagram detainees were “virtually identical” to those Guantanamo inmates being held indefinitely without due process.

“Bagram detainees who are not Afghan citizens, who were not captured in Afghanistan, and who have been held for an unreasonable amount of time” may invoke the right to habeas corpus, Bates wrote, referring to the centuries-old legal right.

If it stands, the ruling could haves far-reaching implications on how the US government handles terror suspects and for its operations at Bagram, where about 600 detainees are held.

Barbara Olshansky, a Stanford University professor who represents about 20 detainees at Bagram, said she felt certain that the ruling would extend to all the detainees at the US base in Afghanistan.

But she said the decision “is much broader than that and we will use it for bringing cases on behalf of people not only in Bagram but wherever else the US government is detaining people in its war on terror efforts under [former US president] George [W.] Bush.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, said the ruling left unresolved the status of the vast majority of the detainees, who are Afghans with no right to a lawyer, no access to court and barely any right to challenge the grounds for their detention.

“Given the scant information about the 600 detainees at Bagram, it is not known how many of them have now been held there for years without charge,” HRW’s Joanne Mariner said. “But it should be obvious that these men too deserve a fair legal process.”

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